Every so often, I intentionally decide to encourage someone.
“So-and-so needs encouragement,” my thinking goes, and I try to do whatever is appropriate to the circumstance. For some people that means a card or a text or a call; for others it might mean a particular gesture.
The reasons that prompt this act vary, but there’s almost always something. Maybe someone’s struggling through the aftermath of a loss or going through a stressful job or financial period. Maybe I know that someone’s interpersonal relationships are turbulent. And sometimes the motivator is good news: a new job, a new baby, a new project.
In all of these situations Biblical encouragement – the sort of warm, honest, and sincere support that warms and uplifts the heart, and helps it to go forward – is absolutely appropriate. Encouragement helps provide meaning and perspective in difficult situation, and clarifies the joy in hopeful ones. It is yet another tool the church has at its disposal: a way of helping to enact God’s love and grace on earth.
Therefore, it’s always good, when the Spirit moves us, to encourage those who are in difficult times or those who are facing new and exciting circumstances. But there is a whole other set of people we ought to be encouraging that most of us forget about:
The people who seem just fine.
You know who I mean. The together people. The people who, even if they have a lot going on, always seem to be handling it with calmness and grace. Their hair isn’t on fire. They’re not melting down. They may not be making prayer requests. I know you know these people. You may be one of those people.
I’m talking about that small group leader who always just seems to have it under control, who always has a sincere smile and a warm welcome for everyone who visits her home, and whose prayer requests always seem sort of minor compared to the list of deaths and illnesses and job losses kept in the group. I’m talking about the widow who lost her husband three years ago and whose life seems to have been joyfully reconstructed in the time since: she has a vibrant group of friends, plenty of activities, and has taken a role as a mentor. I’m talking about the father of two relatively well-behaved kids who coaches soccer and works 9 to 5. I’m talking about the child-free couple who seem to have settled happily into their professional and personal lives.
I’ve been convicted lately that I tend to encourage others at either moments of disaster and moments of great joy. Both of these are necessary. But it’s also important to encourage all the “regular” people living in all the moments in-between. No, they’re not suffering immediate chaos and they don’t have wonderful new opportunities on the horizon, but they’re going through life. And sometimes that day-to-day walk through frustrating and tedious normalcy benefits from encouragement and kindness.
Moreover, we don’t really know what people are going through. I can think of more than a few occasions where, after the fact, I found out a believer had been having an incredibly difficult time. Nothing showed on the surface; life, for them, seemed to be going on as normal. The truth is that a lot of times we just don’t know, and when we offer encouragement only when prompted by outside circumstances, we miss those who might really need it.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says that we ought to “encourage one another and build each other up” – to make that practice a habit, a part of who we are. I’ve been convicted lately that in order to do that I need to encourage people not just when exterior signs and signals tell me that they need it, but in general and as much as I can. The “together” people who seem to be doing just fine won’t be hurt by some words of encouragement – and indeed, they might need it more than anyone else.